Muscle-Program Primer

Christopher Pennington

The Eight Essentials of Designing a Workout That Works for You

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Why donít trainees plan their workout programs more carefully? Over the years Iíve observed that many people involved in weight training donít have a clue about workout design. Oh, they have a basic idea of how to train and what the result should be, but the only planning they do is on-the-spot decisions made during the workout regarding how many reps and sets to perform. Iím the first to admit that training by instinct has great merit. You need to be flexible with your training and listen to your body for vital clues to discern recovery status.

On the flip side, however, so-called instinctive training has its drawbacks, the biggest of which is a lack of continuity from one training session to the next. Continuity is important; it requires you to record what happens in your sessions, gathering valuable data to gauge your progress. Itís as simple as comparing such factors as weight lifted, number of reps and number of sets from workout to workout. The goal is to avoid arbitrary workout decisions that donít bring you any closer to your goals. The plan doesnít need to be complexóalthough in many situations, such as peaking for a bodybuilding competition, it can be.

Program design is the process of building a group of exercises, sets, reps and rest periods that will lead you to the results you desire. Once you design the big picture, you can make small changes to the plan as necessary. Thatís where the principle of instinctive training comes in handy: when it is used within the framework of an overall training routine. Remember that small details can have a large impact on your results, especially when gauged over the long term. Without an overall view of things, this concept is easily overlooked.

Now that you understand the importance of program design, here are some key factors to consider as part of the process of structuring your own training program.

1) What do you want to achieve from training?

Can you easily put into words what you want to accomplish with your training? Are you primarily after strength? If so, one option is to set up a three-to-four-week training phase focusing on pure-strength increases. The same goes for mass development. If thatís the goal, set up a training phase aimed at accomplishing it. Are you after a little of both? Then plan accordingly. Lastly, is there a specific bodypart that needs work? If so, you need to devote extra training time to it. The first step is determining what you want to accomplish and then plan accordingly.

2) What muscle groups do you want to work, and what exercises are you going to use to work them?

This is one of the most fundamental questions to ask when designing a training program. Not knowing specifically which muscle groups you want to work leads to long, overdrawn workouts in which you attempt to fit in a little of everything. It goes without saying that this quickly leads to overtraining.

Once you know what muscle groups you want to train, you need to figure out what exercises to use. Sound easy? Well, yes and no. There are so many different exercise options for each muscle group that youíll need to figure out how youíre going to rotate your exercises. Not just that, but youíll also need to think about when you plan to use advanced techniques such as forced reps and drop sets.

3) What days during the week can you†† work out?

How many days a week can you train? Once you know that, you have to ask yourself how many days of the week should you work out. Just because you can train five days a week doesnít mean you should. Your training schedule is influenced by your goals and your lifestyle. If youíre having an overly stressful week at work, it may be helpful to reduce the volume a bit. Thatís one area where you do need to listen to your body to help you decide.

A schedule on which you train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is different from training on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. There are successful examples of both low- and high-volume weekly training schedules. Some of the strongest powerlifters in the world work out only three days a week, while some of the strongest Olympic weightlifters in the world work out two to three times a day, five days a week.


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Row to Grow?

Charles Poliquin

Row to Grow?

Q: I have not seen you mention barbell rows in your workouts.†Agreed, most people donít perform them correctly, but what are your reasons for ignoring a great exercise? Could you provide a quick primer on barbell rows, just in case I get bored with chinups?

A: The reason that I donít mention barbell rows is simply that I donít believe they are a great upper-back exercise, even when performed correctly. Why? Because too much neural drive is expended in firing the muscles involved in maintaining proper posture. Thereís a great neuromuscular demand on firing the erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings at the same timeóso much that the level of recruitment finally left over for the lats is too minimal to be worth it.

From the IRON MAN Training & Research Center

Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson

From the IRON MAN Training & Research Center

Last month we reviewed the Shock-week program of our X-Rep version of Eric Broserís Power/Rep Range/Shock protocol. We mentioned that weíve adjusted the schedule so that weíre doing two weeks in a row each of Power and Rep Range workouts to optimize the benefits but only one week of Shock work.

Arms: Train More to Gain More?

Steve Holman

Arms: Train More to Gain More?

Q: Iím a hardgainer, so Iíve been using your [version of Eric Broserís] Power/Rep Range/Shock program [listed in the e-book 3D Muscle Building]. Iím making great gains in size and strength everywhere except for my arms. Do you think I need to specialize on my biceps and triceps? I really want big arms as soon as possible.

Chest Stress: How Much Rest is Best?

John Hansen

Chest Stress: How Much Rest is Best?

Q: I hope you can help me. I train three days a week: Monday: chest, arms; Wednesday: legs; Friday: back, shoulders. I love that routine, but a lot of times my chest feels undertrained. What can I do?

A: The problem may be the chest routine youíre following, or you may be taking too much rest between chest workouts. I donít know what stage youíre in with your training. If youíve just started working out, you may be taking too much rest between bodypart hits. Only advanced trainers need six to seven days.

Ultimate Exercises and Mass Machines

Steve Holman

Ultimate Exercises and Mass Machines

Q: I notice that some of your ultimate exercises for each bodypart [listed in the e-book The Ultimate Mass Workout] are done on machines, and you include machine exercises, such as pulldowns and Smith-machine incline presses, in that e-book as well as your others [like X-traordinary Muscle-Building Workouts